One of the endeavors of human cultures, from the beginning, has been to qualify and direct the influence of emotion. The word “affection” and the terms of value that cluster around it—love, care, sympathy, mercy, forbearance, respect, reverence—have histories and meanings that raise the issue of worth. We should, as our culture has warned us over and over again, give our affection to things that are true, just, and beautiful.
-Wendell Berry, from his 2012 Jefferson Lecture, at the the National Endowment of the Humanities.
The theme of this year’s Festival is “Roots of Renewal,” which is, in part, meant to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our guarantor system. Established in 1912, guarantors make an ongoing, annual commitment of at least $125 toward the general administrative and artistic operations of The Choir. The small group that pledged to “guarantee” the fiscal health of the fledgling organization in 1912 has grown to number more than 600 representing 33 states and three nations. In planning for the Festival, we set a goal of recruiting 100 new guarantors by the end of this season. We’re more than halfway there, and I would like to take a moment to commend to our readers the wonderful experience of being a guarantor.
If I may adapt, slightly, the old Hair Club for Men commercial, we’re not just a members of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, but my wife and I are also guarantors. I prefaced the following with the quote from Wendell Berry, because, though his talk covered a broader series of topics, his thoughts on ascribing worth and affection to culture speak so powerfully to the reason we support The Choir, not only with our time, but with our treasure. I’ve written in the past about the joy of being part of the Bach Choir family, and that the larger family, musicians and supporters, alike, make beautiful music together (both literally and figuratively). As such, it seems to me that The Choir’s worth, in terms of both the truth and beauty it brings to a world badly in need of it, are somewhat self-evident. More compellingly, though, I think that Berry’s collection of terms of value that cluster around affection and worth are also words that aptly describe being part of The Choir’s family of supporters: “Love, care, sympathy… respect, reverence.”
From my position on the Board of Managers, I see the great care and deliberation with which those entrusted with The Choir’s financial resources make considered use of them. The Spring issue of The Bach Choir News included a number of bullet points intended to summarize the reasons an individual might want to support The Choir as a guarantor, and I will share them below – The Bach Choir:
- Is the oldest Bach Choir in America and has presented the American debuts ofsome of Bach’s most important choral works
- Consists of 90 volunteer singers who annually contribute more than 10,000 hours of time
- Presents 30 concerts a year – 15 of them free educational outreach performances – for more than 20,000 people
- Has released three new recordings in the last two years on the Analekta label, Canada’s premiere classical label
- Reaches more than 5000 children each year through our Bach to School program
- Together with the Bach Festival Orchestra has received national and international acclaim for performances in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Cleveland, England, and Germany
- Has impressive media presence with features nationally on PBS, NPR, and CBS Sunday Morning, and internationally on BBC and Deutsche Radio
- Currently has 600 Guarantors from across the country who choose to be part of The Choir’s legacy
- Brings 900 people to Downtown Bethlehem each month for Bach at Noon – Great Community and Economic Development
- Continues the tradition of the Bethlehem Bach Festival – now in its 105th year
These talking points speak to The Choir’s legacy, the value it brings to the community that surrounds it, the prestige of its reputation, and the breadth of its support across the country. Beyond that, however, is the experience of belonging to a family of diverse individuals who value both musical excellence, as well as the truth and beauty I mentioned earlier. Attending the Festival is somewhat akin to a homecoming for many members of our audience – I always delight in seeing guarantors and friends from far and wide as we unite around some of the most beautiful music in the Western Canon. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that, beyond the music, we assemble to share in those values of love, care, respect, and reverence.
The Choir also offers something increasingly rare, and that was summed up beautifully by an elementary school student who recently attended a Bach at Noon. His teacher shared with Greg something the young gentleman said. Halfway through Cantata N0. 130 at the April Bach at Noon, he tugged on his teacher’s arm, and exclaimed, “It sounds so real!” At first blush, it may seem like one of those Readers’ Digest, “Things Kids Say,” sort of observations, but the deeper truth of his statement reverberates: our music-making is real in a way that is unfortunately, in our era of auto-tuning and electronic gimmickry, all-too-rare. Some of the most popular music entertainments, both on television and the radio, as well in stadiums where tens of thousands gather to hear them, are mostly smoke and mirrors: lip-synching, real-time electronic intonation correction, sequencers, overdubbing, etc. The experience of live musicians, gathering in a beautiful space, without amplification or electronic modification, and passionately singing and playing, with great care, is something I know the Bach Choir family values. It is something to which thousands of individuals ascribe a large amount of affection and worth, and I think it’s something greatly deserving of our financial support. If you’re not already, won’t you consider supporting The Choir as a guarantor, and helping to sustain and renew a wonderful legacy? If so, please contact the Bach Choir Office at 610 866 4382.
Bridget George, our Executive Director, was interviewed about the Guarantor Program on the program, A Tempo, on WWFM. You may listen to a webcast of her interview by following this link.